under the Code of Canon Law
of the One Holy Catholic Apostolic
Pope Pius XIII
Nature of Christian Marriage
1. Marriage is a contract by which a
man and a woman become irrevocably united for the procreation and (Christian)
education of children. It has its origin in the Natural law. God the Father
gave it in the beginning, a sacred and religious character; and God the
Son, as Christ, raised it to the dignity of a Sacrament of the New Law.
(See Canon 1013, Nos. 1&2.)
Hence, Canon Law 1012 No. 1, which so states: “Our Lord raised
to the dignity of a Sacrament, the Marriage Contract itself between baptized
persons. No, 2. Hence, between baptized persons there can be no valid
Contract of Marriage without there being a Sacrament.”
Both of the 2 founts of supernatural revelation (Apostolic Tradition
and Holy Scriptures) must be employed to prove that marriage between Christians
has been elevated to this dignity. The dogmatic theologians gave their
talents to the argument. The Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) defined that
Christian marriage is not a mere symbol of the union of Christ with the
Church, His Spotless Bride, His Spouse, but that it is an efficacious Sign
and truly a Sacrament, or visible channel of divine grace, producing and
containing grace. (Sess. xxiv, Can. 1). That the marriage contract itself
constitutes the Sacrament has not always been so clearly understood.
There was a time when many argued that it was the nuptial blessing exclusively
that constituted the Sacrament — they used to say the contract was the
matter and the blessing was the form. Many Trent Fathers leaned that way,
believing it helped in regards impediments. But after the clear declaration
of Pope Pius IX (in his Syllabus, prop. 66, 73) and of Pope Leo XIII (in
his Encyc. Arcanum, Febr. 10, 1880) it was no longer tenable. For one thing,
couples were not always able to receive the nuptial blessing but no one
could deny the validity of their marriage contract and therefore they had
received the Sacrament.
2. Now let us say we have 2 Christians
who say they want to get married but have no intention at all of receiving
the Sacrament -- they want to say they are married, they want to feel married
-- but they could not care less about receiving it as a Sacrament.
What of them? Their contract would not be valid. It is not really necessary
that they have the sacrament actually in mind; but if their predominant
intentions are to exclude it, there is no contract, because for Christians
the contract itself must be a Sacrament. This is a very important fact
to be aware of, especially in these days when so many young people have
attempted a marriage by unusual means and then left that marriage for a
try at another one. Was the first one a real marriage? Is the second try?
Which of them is the real marriage? Or is either one a real marriage? You
will have to discover the intent of the two people. Remember, if
they are two baptized Christians who did not intend to receive the Sacrament
of Marriage, then they have not and their contract is not valid.
3. How about 2 unbaptized persons?
The valid marriage of these two becomes a sacramental union by the subsequent
baptism of both, and this without any renewal of consent. Their baptisms
make them capable of receiving sacramental grace. (Vidal, n. 41; Cappello,
If only one of the parties should become a Christian, the marriage does
not become sacramental. Such a union could be dissolved by the Pauline
Privilege, if all the conditions are verified.
But, if at the time of the marriage, one was already baptized and the
other not, and a dispensation from disparity of worship granted, or a dispensation
was not necessary as in the case of a baptized non-Catholic marrying a
non-baptized person since May 19, 1918, is the union sacramental for the
Christian party? No. It is not a Sacrament. Both must be baptized in order
to be capable of receiving the Sacrament. The matrimonial contract is one
and identical with the Sacrament.
If a contract is what the Holy See calls “vinculum naturale” or a mere
natural contract, between one baptized and one unbaptized, then it can
be dissolved by the Pope “in favor of the Faith” (Holy Office, Nov. 5,
1924; Eccl. Review, Febr. 1925, p. 188).
No. 417. Is there any case in which the marriage would be valid, even
in the absence of any qualified priest?
Yes. There are two such cases, provided that the contracting parties
cannot, without grave danger, go to or fetch the pastor or Ordinary of
the place, or some other priest delegated by either the pastor or the Ordinary
(Canon 1098, No. 1).
1. In danger of death. For instance,
when two persons are living in the state of sin, and one of them falls
dangerously ill; they decide to put their consciences in order; they call
the priest, but he is delayed in coming; the crisis arrives, and the exchange
of consent takes place before two witnesses.
2. Even outside the danger of death,
if they prudently foresee that this impossibility will continue for a month.
This case occurs generally in mission countries. It might occur also during
war-time in invaded districts. It occurs in our times due to the new Arians
having taken over all the parishes, changing the functions of the Sacraments
without seeming to have done so. The Church has already planned for any
No. 418. In such cases, what is required, as a form of celebration,
in order that the marriage will be valid?
It is necessary that the promises be exchanged before at least two witnesses
(Canon 1098, No. 1).
No. 419. If, in such a case a non-qualified priest were available
and could assist at the marriage, should he be called?
Yes. (Canon 1098, No. 2). He should assist with the other witnesses.
No. 420. Is the assistance of this non-qualified priest, in
such a case, required under pain of nullity of the marriage?
No! Even in such circumstances, the marriage would be valid if the parties
contracted before only the other witnesses (Canon 1098, No.2).
421. How many witnesses besides the priest are required for a marriage?
The Presence of the Witnesses:
1. For validity — at least two (Canon 1094).
2. For liceity — whatever is required by the diocesan regulations.
422. Who can act as witness to a marriage?
1. For validity — any person who
is capable of testifying to the fact of marriage (without any exception).
423. Are there any cases in which one can without dispensation omit
the required witnesses?
2. For liceity — heterdox persons should
not be permitted to act, without the permission of the Ordinary for grave
reasons (S. Off., Aug. 19, 1891).
No! Not even in the two cases in which it is permitted to act without
the presence of the pastor (Canon 1098).
According to Canon Law 1103, “when Marriage has been contracted
according to C. 1098, the Priest, if there was one present, and otherwise
the witnesses, must see to it that the Marriage is entered in the two Records.”
If it is impossible to enter them in either your parish or your Chancery,
then it is the responsibility of the couple and the witnesses to keep a
complete Record of the ceremony and why C. 1098 had to be called upon.
You can find this under Canon 1104, No. 3. And even though
a contract of marriage under 1098 will not be a secret, yet the same handling
of Records will have to be used. In fact the couple will probably have
to resort also to a civil marriage to satisfy the civil law.
No. 515. What is to be recorded in the Marriage Register?
The names of the contracting parties and of the witnesses, the place
and date of the marriage, and the other things required by the Ritual and
by the Ordinary (Canon 1103).
The dispensation by virtue of which the marriage could be celebrated,
so that no doubt may later arise as to its concession (Cannon 1046-1047)
(S. C. Prop.,Jan. 12, 1869).
Can. 1016. The marriage of baptized persons is regulated not only by divine
but also by canonical law, the civil power remaining competent in regard
to the purely civil effects of marriage.
Authority That Regulates Marriage
1. Marriage of Baptized Persons. It is governed
by the divine law, the canonical law, and, in regard to certain effects,
the civil law.
(a) The Divine Law. All that is required by the law of
nature for a contract and a marriage contract is necessary also for Christian
marriage. To this must be added the prescriptions of the divine positive
law, from which the Church does not and cannot dispense.
(b) The Ecclesiastical Law. The Church claims full, independent
and exclusive power over the marriage of all baptized persons -- Catholics,
heretics, schismatics -- because she has received from Christ supreme authority
in religious matters, and marriage is a sacrament, and because by Baptism
men become her subjects, whether willing or not. The power is exclusive:
“To decree and ordain about the sacrament is, by the will of Christ, so
much a part of the power and duty of the Church that it is plainly absurd
to maintain that even the smallest particle of such power has been transferred
to the civil ruler” (Leo XIII, Encyc. Arcanum). It includes the legislative,
judicial, and coercive power; that is, the power of establishing impediments
both diriment and impedient, of deciding all matrimonial causes, of constraining
married persons to comply with obligations, etc. It has, however, to be
exercised within the limits of the natural and divine positive law, does
not extend to merely civil effects, and should not unnecessarily interfere
with the liberty of marriage. To marry is a right which every man has received
from nature. It has to be respected; still, it is not absolutely independent
in its exercise — the common and private good may demand that it be restricted
at times and perhaps taken away altogether in some extraordinary cases.
Thus, the Church might forbid a person infected with a serious contagious
disease ever to marry, even under pain of nullity. In reality, such a person
has no right to marry.
(c) Civil Power. The civil power has no authority over the bond
itself or what is essential to it, and can establish no real impediment,
diriment or impediment, to the marriage of Christians. It has authority
over the civil effects. The merely civil effects are those which concern
the temporal order, and are separable from the marriage contract, as what
pertains to the dowry, the right of succession, etc. (Vidal, n. 74). The
State has legislative, judicial, and coercive power over these; it may
require certain formalities, like registration, as a condition for granting
legal value to a canonically valid marriage, and punish the omission of
those requirements. But even the purely civil effects should not be withheld
without legitimate cause from a valid contract. And those which, although
of a civil or temporal order in themselves, are inseparable from a valid
contract -- e.g., the legitimacy of children or cohabitation — should not
be denied by the civil courts to marriage contracted in accordance with
the laws of the Church (Cappello, n. 73; Can 1961).
Couples should be instructed on the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage,
their mutual obligations, the obligations of parents towards their children;
they should be in the state of grace when they make their contract, receive
As a Catholic married man and woman, you have one of the greatest gifts
-- and one of the greatest opportunities to do good -- that it is possible
for human beings to possess on earth. In your Sacrament you have a vocation
from God, to serve Him together until death. God will give you every help
you need to fulfill your role. Begin your life together by praying together.
The father should lead the prayers. Marriage is a sacred framework.
Marriage is a Sacred Vocation